National Service: Helping soften the blow

"There are many organizations in Israel devoted to the gay community, but our aim in Tehila is to help the parents, not the children."

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April 23, 2009 11:26
4 minute read.
National Service: Helping soften the blow

Doron Ketsef 88 248. (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)

 
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Doron Ketsef Organization: Tehila Hours a week: Whenever he is needed Residence: Moshav Avihayil, near Netanya Profession: Diamonds Web site: www.tehila.org.il 'The first reaction is guilt - what did I do to make my child different, why me? They worry about the nonacceptance of society, prejudice in the job market, a black empty future... I show the bright side and give my own family as an example' Doron and Orna Ketsef are busy looking at photos of their two-year-old granddaughter Yuli when I arrive at their home to hear about Doron's volunteer work for Tehila, the organization which helps parents of homosexuals come to terms with their children's sexual orientation. Prominent on the sideboard is a portrait of their pretty 23-year-old lesbian daughter, Sivan, together with her partner Inbal - the mother of their grandchild - taken soon after their wedding in the family garden in Moshav Avihayil. Doron gives many hours of his day to Tehila, serving on the organizing committee, often manning a hot line and always there for the often distraught parents who contact the organization when they first discover their child is gay. When he is not doing what he considers vital work with Tehila, he spends some time in the diamond business. Orna, who fully supports him in his activities, is a retired English teacher. "There are many organizations in Israel devoted to the gay community, but our aim in Tehila is to help the parents, not the children," explains Doron. "The statistics say that 10 percent of the population is gay, so 10% of parents should be out there also, but there are not even 1% who are active, being out there and getting help. The parents are still in the closet. When a child comes out and acknowledges that he is gay, he puts his parents into the closet because they often don't know how to deal with it." Doron's job is to comfort, explain and give practical advice. "We encounter a lot of resistance at first," he says. "The parents are brought usually by the children." He cites one case of a father whose 16-year-old only child came out and told his parents he was gay. "The father took it very badly, but he was clever enough to get help. He used the hot line - talking to specially trained listeners - and after many hours was able to come to my group meeting. For a long time he refused to accept his son, but slowly, step by step, I could feel his resistance subsiding. At the end it usually fades away totally as it did in this case." HAVE YOU had any failures, I wondered. "If people fail to show up again, we don't count them as failures, and we don't follow them up. People have to come of their own free will," says Doron. What tools can one use to break down the prejudices about homosexuality when it appears in your family? "By showing the many positive things along the way. When parents are first exposed to the phenomenon, the first reaction is guilt - what did I do to make my child different, why me? They worry about the nonacceptance of society, prejudice in the job market, a black empty future. "I show the bright side and give my own family as an example. Yes, I have a lesbian daughter - but she and her partner are totally accepted by the circles in which they move, both have prestigious government jobs, they are recognized as a couple and do not encounter any discrimination or prejudice - and we have a wonderful granddaughter." Three years ago their daughter and partner married in a ceremony in the beautiful garden of the Ketsef home. A hundred guests toasted the couple and the fathers blessed them. "There was not a dry eye in the place," says Doron. He points out that acceptance in the gay community has a lot to do with location and is much more guaranteed in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem. Orna and Doron recall when they first realized their middle daughter was lesbian. "A mother always knows," says Orna. "When she was 16, I was beginning to wonder as she had a friendship with an older woman but also had boyfriends. At 20 she told us." "Yes, it was a shock," says Doron. "It's like a dull blow to the stomach, a feeling of emptiness. But then you say to yourself, 'These are the cards I've been dealt, and I have to live with it,' and we knew we couldn't fight it." Adds Orna, "We would never give up on our daughter." For Doron there have been many meaningful moments in the last three years since he started volunteering with Tehila, but if he had to choose one it would be the time when a father he had been working with came to him and told him he had finally been able to tell his sister the truth about his daughter. "The father, who came from a religious family, had accepted his daughter wholeheartedly but couldn't talk to anyone else in the family. I took him, step by step, through the process he faced and asked him to think of the least problematic of his Orthodox relatives. Once he'd told his sister, he felt a two-ton weight lifted from his shoulders. Now we are working on the brother who is an Orthodox rabbi and hoping to get help from 'Rabbi Ron,' the only openly gay Orthodox rabbi in Israel at the moment." The challenges are huge but Doron feels that as long as he can make a difference in the lives of others he will continue to work for Tehila and contribute what he can to help the sometimes desperate parents who come to his meetings. "My volunteer work gives content to my life," he says. If you know of someone who volunteers in a worthy cause, please send details to gloriadeutsch@gmail.com.

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